Howell worker injured in Dexter explosion files lawsuit against contractors
John Counts | AnnArbor.com
Courtesy of Bill McHenry
The 23-year-old Howell man injured in an April explosion that killed another worker at a Dexter wastewater treatment plant on Thursday filed a lawsuit against the contractors.
The suit, filed in the Washtenaw County Trial Court, claims David McBride wasn’t warned methane gas was present in the area where he was using a blowtorch, which caused the explosion.
“It is inconceivable in this day and age that engineers and experienced general contractors would allow cutting operations with torches to go on for nearly two days on a digester loaded with raw sewage and highly explosive methane gas,” McBride’s attorney, Bill McHenry, said in a released statement. “This is not rocket science. This tragic accident should have never happened.”
McBride suffered serious head injuries and hasn’t yet returned to work, McHenry said.
The suit states McBride was cutting bolts on the lid of a digester, one of two large tanks used for collecting and processing sewage at the Village of Dexter’s Wastewater Treatment Plant, when the torch he was using ignited the methane gas and caused the explosion.
“(McBride) was launched into the inside of the rim of the digester, resulting in horrific and permanent injuries including, but not limited to, traumatic brain injury,” the suit claims.
Michael Koch a supervisor with Platinum Mechanical, Inc., was killed in the blast. The 48-year-old Brooklyn, Mich. man was working alongside McBride on top of the lid.
The defendants listed in the suit are the general contractor, A.Z. Shmina, Inc., and the two sub-contractors, Platinum Mechanical, Inc. and Orchard, Hiltz & McCliment, Inc.
McBride worked for Regal Recycling, Inc., a Howell-based salvage company that was called in to scrap the lids of the digesters. McHenry said the contractors who hired McBride should have known the digesters were still filled with methane-emitting sludge and not allowed the him to use a torch trying to remove the lids.
“The people in charge of the site should have known that the digester was still full of sewage,” McHenry said. “(The contractors) never in a million years should have allowed torches.”
The suit lists three counts of negligence and gross negligence, one count against each of the contractors.
The Village of Dexter awarded A.Z. Shmina, Inc. the $3.3 million contract to renovate the wastewater treatment plant in July 2012.
Work has continued at the plant since the explosion. The lid of the primary digester has since been removed and may be responsible for a foul odor in Dexter until a new lid can be put in place, AnnArbor.com reported Thursday.
The treatment plant contains two digesters, a smaller, primary digester that mixes and heats the sludge to help break it down and a larger digester used mainly for storage. The current lids date back to the 1970s and were not functioning properly, making them very inefficient, AnnArbor.com has reported.
Back in April, McBride had cut the bolts off the secondary digester the day before the explosion without incident. He was working with the blowtorch on the primary digester when the flame ignited the methane, McHenry said.
“He’s still recovering,” the attorney added. “The kid wants to get back to work. He’s young, he’s strong, he’s healthy, but he’s suffered a serious head injury.”
The suit requests an undisclosed amount more than $25,000, the minimum for a case to appear in circuit court.
A spokesperson for Platinum Mechanical, Inc. declined to comment about the lawsuit when reached by phone Friday. Messages were left with A.Z. Shmina, Inc. and Orchard, Hiltz & McCliment, Inc.
The explosion is still under investigation by the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration.